Perhaps sensing that casual music fans don’t always grasp the breadth of the term “alt-country,” Boise quartet New Transit refers to itself as “Northwest alt-country-rock” on its Facebook page (always the place to make snap judgments about bands, of course.)
Intentional or not, it’s wise to be ambiguous. Much like No Depression magazine’s claim about covering “alternative-country music (whatever that is),” No Transit’s debut doesn’t fuss with strict limitations. It’s filled with warm, elegant country influences — particularly the timeless allure of floating lap and pedal steel — but with enough gritty edge to widen the audience.
Guitarist Sean Hatton and bassist A. Nigel Gates deliver consistently sweet vocal harmonies during memorable songs such as “Help Me Hold on to You,” “Sunny Day” and “Let’s Talk About You,” a track that takes a short, mid-track rhythmic detour almost perfect in its simplicity. “Breaking Up is Messy” is another highlight, merging smoldering, personal lyrics with lush pop and loose, psych-fuzz guitar notes.
About the time you start reminiscing about those old Uncle Tupelo records you need to drag out of storage, New Transit unleashes a moment of upbeat, Neil-Young-meets-Driver-By-Truckers guitar crunch during “All I Have is Words.” Is this group making you feel like headbanging for a few seconds? It is.
These 10 songs make you feel a lot of things — mostly pleasure and surprise. Call it what you want (“alt-country” is just fine), New Transit’s first album is the mid-year frontrunner for best local disc of 2011.